To the Castles

A Medieval Tour of Monumental Proportions
By Kit Carlson
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Once upon a time there was a king, a Crusader, a man so brave that he was dubbed "Lionheart." Kidnapped by the Duke of Austria, the king was held in a cliff-top castle, where he languished in durance vile. When no one could discover where the captive was kept, the king's minstrel set out to find his master. He wandered the length and breadth of Austria, singing the king's own compositions outside the battlements of every castle. At last, in Durnstein, a lusty baritone floated down the hill in reply. England's King Richard was found at last.

Today, Durnstein Castle is a ruin, destroyed by Swedish cannons in 1645. Five hundred feet above the vineyards and towns that dot the banks of the Danube west of Vienna, its ragged curtain walls capture nothing but the imagination. Only the wind sings through its gaping portals.

And yet, the empty ruin feels somehow...inhabited. The past haunts the present in the castles of Middle Europe. Each incredible fortress was built by actual people: as a home, a place of safety, a seat of power. Within the walls, ordinary humans suffered and rejoiced and fought and loved.

Thus, I begin my quest—to find some of Middle Europe's most wonderful castles—with my romantic tendencies both stimulated and dampened. As I crisscross Austria and southern Germany. I want to take hold of those evanescent Days of Yore and find in their stone-solid remains some connection to what has been.

Published: 4 Apr 2000 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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